St. Louis joins national ‘Built for Zero’ initiative to bring veteran homelessness to zero

ST. LOUIS – Seeking shelter from summer’s sweltering hot temperatures doesn’t always come easy; especially for those people who are less fortunate.

But the City of St. Louis wants to change that, permanently.

Joining more than 70 communities across the nation, it’s the city’s newest approach that will use person-specific real-time data to monitor the homeless population so that chronic and veteran homelessness is one day down to zero.

“When I became a social worker, the idea was to work myself out of a job,” said Irene Agustin, the director of human services for the City of St. Louis. “So in terms of reducing and ending homelessness, we are, in essence, working ourselves out of a job but it’s for the greater good.”

“We can assess people until we are blue in the face but really it’s connecting them to housing, we need landlords to understand the population that we are working with and to work with our nonprofit agencies so that we can keep people housed.”

Richard LaPlume of DePaul USA St. Louis is one of the many partners the initiative seeks to utilize help from, in order to provide permanent housing and support for homeless communities.

“I can say that our program, we have housed over 50 people,” said LaPlume. “Our agency has housed over a 100 people and in housing throughout the City of St. Louis.”

St. Louis resident Joyce Alexander said if it wasn’t for people like LaPlume, she would’ve never gotten out of living a homeless person’s life.

For years, the 65-year-old was involved in an abusive relationship, drugs, and alcohol, which she said forced her to live on the streets.

“I just didn’t care and I had family; but they wouldn’t even come down and see about me,” said Alexander.

She said one day she realized she was tired of being tired and sought the help of a case manager who, in turn, connected her with various community resources that eventually led her to find a place of her own – an air-conditioned apartment on Elenore Street in south St. Louis City.

“I’m eating my own food, I’m paying my own bills, and I’m very independent, and I thank God for that,” Alexander said.

Alexander said she has a message for those who are living the life that she once lived.

“You can get your life together, I’m a prime example; because everything is not bad,” she said.

Meanwhile, Agustin said its Point-in-Time (PIT) count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons on a single night in January, showed that the city is experiencing about 26 percent reduction in its homeless population.